Dolly Parton named 2022 ‘Friend of Education’ for literacy work

WASHINGTON — Singer, songwriter and philanthropist Dolly Parton is being honored by the National Education Association as the recipient of its 2022 “Friend of Education” award.

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The NEA announced that Parton was the recipient of the award, saying in a news release, “Even in a time of great division in America, country music legend Dolly Parton brings people together with messages of acceptance and love.”

The NEA chose to honor Parton in part for her work creating the Imagination Library. The Imagination Library, created in 1995, provides free books to children from birth to age 5, regardless of their family’s income. By 2003, the Imagination Library had mailed 1 million books to children around the world, and as of last month, had gifted more than 184 million books to children in the U.S., Canada, UK, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.

“In addition to bringing incalculable joy, with a smile like a breath of spring and a soft voice like summer rain, to fans across the world, she has championed literacy, learning and diversity in literature for nearly half a century,” NEA President Becky Pringle said in a statement. “In distributing more than 2 million books each month, Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library has poured a cup of ambition for millions of young children.”

The NEA’s Friend of Education award “recognizes a person or organization whose leadership and acts or support have significantly contributed to the improvement of American public education.”

In a message thanking the NEA for the award, Parton said, “Together, let’s continue to inspire kids to dream more, care more, learn more and therefore be more. And remember, that I will always love you.”

Parton said that she founded the Imagination Library in honor of her father, who never learned to read or write.